Managing People

I really love dealing with people. I come from a culture which highly prizes human interaction and communication skills. But I also love technical work, and this tends to attract people who prefer to work alone. In this article I want to discuss my progression through different styles of management and leadership throughout my life.

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Modelling the Modeller

Something I’ve struggled with on and off over the 20 years that I have been making mathematical models is explaining those models to others. I have tried to bring people along and develop their understanding. But mainly what I observed was that, some people just got it and others did not.

I have certainly improved my own skill at explaining. This comes down to having streamlined stories and simpler take-home messages. Telling a clearer story certainly improves my audiences’ self-satisfaction, but ultimately some of them get the whole message and others do not.

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The era of the solo contributor is dead

I have been reconnecting with some of my academic friends. We all belong more or less to the same age cohort. In recent weeks, I have been watching them interacting with one another on Twitter and through various other media. They each have achieved considerable degrees of success in their chosen fields – all have tenure at global top-50 ranked institutions. Through my observations, I have come to the realisation that the era of the solo contributor is dead.

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Why I write

I sometimes see myself as a slow learner. I am extremely fast at deep-thinking, which somewhat disguises this fact, but I learn things from the ground up. Until I can think a topic through I sometimes feel unsure about operating from an incomplete understanding.

When I worked in academia I prefered to learn rather than to force my opinions on others. Everybody seemed reasonably smart, and they were absolutely convinced of their own correctness, and so I listened and learned. Continue reading “Why I write”

The network you grow up with

A sense of home is a powerful feeling. The sense of belonging, of knowing where everything is. I miss that sometimes.

I left Ireland almost exactly 10 years ago with a burning need to go out and prove myself. I had finally recovered from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and was going to take up a much delayed PhD position. I moved to the University of Luebeck, where I found my introduction to neuroscience, before moving on to Paris Descartes, the École Normale Supérieure and the University of Chicago. With each move I developed a new network of colleagues, collaborators, and mentors.

A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by a member of the Irish mathematical community. Many years ago I wrote the website for the Mathematics Department at NUI, Galway. While doing that I included biographies of the then members of staff and their research domains. At some point, I also made a backup of the website for my own reference under my personal domain. Sadly, many of the members of staff who worked at NUI, Galway when I was an undergraduate are now dead. So now this resource has become a useful archive. And thus I was re-discovered by a member of the current Irish mathematical community.

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One year-a blogging

One year ago I finally picked up the courage to put my thoughts publicly online. I led with a traditional Hello World but I quickly followed-up with my opening manifesto for the company I was trying to establish Simmunology.

The discipline of writing is something I initially discovered, when I first moved to Germany, 10 years ago. It clarifies my thoughts and allows me to discover the holes in my own thinking.

Blogging has paid off immensely. Before, I was afraid of sharing my thoughts and having my opinions come back to bite me. This sometimes led me to go too far down paths that I didn’t agree with.

Eventually I had to accept that I have accumulated considerable life experience. And that those to whom I was listening had typically less things of importance to say than I do. Finally, if I put it here and you disagree with me – I might change my mind – it will certainly lead to a more aligned working relationship.

Influences: Nate Silver

Nate Silver is most famous in the political world for having correctly predicted the results, on a state-by-state level, of the US presidential election in 2008. That’s back when Obama was first elected president. It’s hard to imagine now, but the idea that Obama would win was only given an outside chance by most commentators at the time.

I find it hard to refer to Nate as anything other than Nate since I’ve been listening to the FiveThirtyEight podcast for so long. We don’t know one another, but he’s become a colleague and mentor who lives inside of my head. The reason he is so important to me is because he has become one of my strongest contemporary influences. His success has given me a roadmap for how to lead my life as a mathematical modeller.

I have been developing a series of articles on Mathematics and Biology (article 1article 2, more to follow). A common theme in these articles is how a mathematically trained individual finds their place in the modern work environment. We want to pursue our art, we also have professional standards and a lot to contribute, but somehow the connection between our skills and the needs of others are missing. By following Nate’s work, I have at least one strong role model who I can attempt to model. Continue reading “Influences: Nate Silver”